[eDebate] Henry A. Giroux, neoliberalism, bush and critical pedagogy

J T jtedebate
Sat Apr 5 13:43:59 CDT 2008

Below is an email conversation between myself and Prof. Henry A. Giroux concerning his work on neoliberalism and critical pedagogy.  My initial email is reprinted below

Dear JT:

Thanks for the note, the information about the debate club, and the
nature of some of the important issues the students are addressing.
While I can't answer any of the questions below in detail--not merely
because they demand a lot of time, which I don't have, but also
because I continually write about some of these issues, especially in
the newest book Against the Terror of Neoliberalism.

The comment from a judge(s) about what will Giroux do when Bush leaves
office is just silly on a number of counts. I was writing books long
before Bush came to office because many of the issues I have addressed
for a number of years such as the ongoing attack on the welfare state,
workers, youth who of color who are poor, etc., did not begin with
Bush and will not end with him.

I think the questions you ask are predicated on the assumption that
power is almost entirely located in the state and the institution of
the presidency. Actually, one of the significant changes in the
political landscape under neoliberalism is that the state is become
increasingly powerless to deal with the reach and scope of capital,
whose power far exceeds any control by the nation state. I am not sure
if any president can control that separation of local politics from
the global power of capital.  Even at home, I am not optimistic about
a democratic president being able to dismantle the increasing power of
the military-industrial-academic complex. Are you? These are systemic
problems that demand a new understanding of the relationship among
power, economics, politics, and education.

McCain is simply an upbeat and more articulate version of Bush. He
caters shamelessly to religous bigots, corporate power, and he defines
himself as basically a hawk. I am not sure the country could survive
him as a president.

Critical pedagogy begins with the assumption that matters of critical
though, debate, dialogue, and informed action are central not only to
a viable notion of citizenship but as Arendt argued to the very
meaning of politics and democracy. Education is ground zero in the
production of citizens rather than merely consumers and if young
people do not get the critical foundation for becoming individual and
social agents who care deeply about a substantive democracy, I am
afraid this country will vote in an authoritarian government and
social order that will mimic some elements of fascism that we have
seen in the past.

Regarding government reforms for education, clearly NCLB has to be
dismantled, the social state has to be revived, we need billions of
dollars to build smaller schools, provide safety networks for children
who are in trouble economically, subsidize jobs for school staff,
tutors, and develop and rebuild schools that are literally falling
apart in many parts of the country. We also need to give teachers
decent salaries, give them access to free post secondary education,
and more control over their jobs. See Stanley Aronowitz's newest book
on education for more specific details on this issue.

Paulo Freire wrote largely about schools while I write about a number
of areas ranging from cultural studies to youth studies to the
politics of higher education. Also, how theoretical frameworks are
different, though I have great respect for his work and incorporate
many of his principles into my own theories of pedagogy.

Hope this helps. I wish I were available to answer questions with more
time and care, but that is impossible given my work load.


Henry Giroux

On Fri, Apr 4, 2008 at 8:50 PM, J T <jtedebate at yahoo.com> wrote:
> Mr. Giroux,
> I write in expressing a deep admiration for your work on pedagogy and
> neoliberalism.  As a college debate coach at Emporia State University, I am
> fortunate to have access to an engaging field of student/coach intellectuals
> whereby arguments and strategies may be advanced and debated.  I believe
> college debate is a unique site within the university structure where
> democratic politics can flourish.
> I first came across your work in researching public education and the
> Milliken decision last year.  Every year debaters in the Cross-Examination
> Debate Association (CEDA, several hundred colleges and universities engaged
> in "policy" debate) debate a specific policy resolution during the course of
> an academic season.  Debaters generally take both sides (affirmative and
> negative) an equal amount during a tournament.  Debates can involve
> discussions of traditional policy issues such as environmental decline,
> poverty, the propensity for a war between India and Pakistan, or the
> economic ramifications of foreign assistance. While tagged "policy debate,"
> many choose to criticize the epistemological or ontological foundations of
> their opponents as well.
> This past year involved increasing "constructive engagement" policies with
> Iran, Afghanistan, Syria, Lebanon and/or the PLA via security guarantees
> and/or foreign assistance. Emporia State advanced an argument in favor of
> unconditional engagement that said Bush's aggressive posturing toward Iran
> was emblematic of a larger neoconservative neoliberalist agenda. We also
> employed your work on critical pedagogy in discussing how college debate
> could transform into that social space of critical scholars and citizens
> (and educator intellectuals) to advance democratic politics.
> Having just returned from the final tournament of the season, I am reminded
> of comments by several of our judges who asked, "What happens to Giroux
> after Bush leaves office?"  While admittedly I have yet to exhaust your
> entire collection of works, I do wonder how you see the potential political
> landscape after the Bush administration.  Although there will be more of the
> same in regard to American politics with any candidate, this seems to be a
> crucial election in reigning in some of the more verbose transgressions of
> current modes of neoliberalism...hopefully.
> I understand you must be very busy, but I was hoping you might have the time
> to answer a few questions, and possibly offer suggestions regarding the
> following:
> Does Obama embody a "politics of hope"?  How would an Obama presidency alter
> neoliberalism on a local and stage?
> What factors of neoliberalism are unlikely to change regardless of which
> candidates wins?
> Is McCain just more of the same Bush neocon/neoliberalism?  Will the absence
> of religious fundamentalism temper his version of this agenda?
> How can practicing critical pedagogy in practices like debate influence
> larger social and cultural structures outside the university? Doesn't this
> just mirror informed social movements that take a long time to create real
> change?
> What are examples of positive government reforms that can advance critical
> pedagogy and/or work to undo the ills of neoliberalism?
> What would you describe as the distinctions/departures between your work on
> pedagogy and Paulo Friere?
> Several teams have attempted to answer our criticism by saying these ideas
> get commodified (within the university or larger social system), i.e. our
> performative call for democratic politics or a retreat from neoliberalism
> will become just another ideological commodity of capital (referencing
> Thomas Frank, Michael Hardt & Antonio Negri, among others).  In a
> competitive forum like debate, this is often sensationalized to mean our
> proposal has no value and only serves the interests of capital...your
> thoughts?
> I am very interested in your thoughts on these matters.  If you would like
> any additional information about myself, CEDA college debate or Emporia
> State University please ask!  Thank you so much for your time and
> consideration.
> Sincerely,
> W. James Taylor ("JT")
> Assistant Director of Debate
> Emporia State University
> (620) 794-1307


Asst. Debate Coach
Emporia State University
You rock. That's why Blockbuster's offering you one month of Blockbuster Total Access, No Cost.
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